Paris rooftops swarm with bees as urban honey industry takes off

Photo by Franco Zecchin. Paris, the urban beekeeper Jean Paucton removing frames from the hive atop the Opera Garnier.

By Charles Bremner in Paris
The Times
August 18, 2009

Tourists are not the only species swarming on the Champs Élysées this August. Also enjoying the sunshine are squadrons of bees, part of a fast-multiplying population that is making honey a new Parisian industry.

The Tuileries, Luxembourg and other lesser gardens of Paris are now home to hundreds of thousands of bees that are far more productive than their country cousins.

“There are a huge quantity of flowers in Paris,” said Yves Védrenne, the general secretary of the National Apiculture Union. As well as the city’s lush parks and gardens, the boulevards and edges of motorways offer pollen well suited to bees, such as acacias, limes and chestnuts.

Not only is the city largely free from the pesticides and fertilisers that are killing the countryside bees, the warmth of the urban area promotes earlier breeding.

Some Paris honey-producers are claiming record productivity, with up to 100kg of honey per hive annually, compared with the 20-25kg from typical hives on the cereal-producing plains of Ile-de-France, the surrounding region, Mr Védrenne said recently.

Photo by Franco Zecchin. Paris, the urban beekeeper Jean Paucton removing frames from the hive atop the Opera Garnier.

There are about 300 registered hives in the city, with more believed to be undeclared as residents try their hand at apiculture, which can be learnt on two-day courses. The total output is estimated at several tonnes a year. Hives must be at least 25 metres from hospitals or schools and have a two-metre screen if they are not on a high building.

Until last May, the biggest hives were on the roof of the Opéra. They were then joined by around 140,000 bees installed on the glass dome of the Grand Palais, the majestic 1900 exhibition hall off the Champs Élysées.

“The bees are very happy in the city. They have everything they need,” said Sébastien de Gasquet, director of the Grand Palais. Nicolas Géant, the bee-keeper behind the Grand Palais scheme, said that the abeilles de ville could produce up to five times the output of insects in the great rural expanses where there are single crops.

See complete Times article here.

See Bees in Paris photos by Franco Zecchin here.